Henry Miller and the Cabalistic Hippie

November 16, 2011, admin

It’s not everyday that you hear a lecture entitled, “The Cabalistic Explanation of the Word ‘F***’,” given by a Torah and history scholar who resembles Gandolf from Lord of the Rings with a Grateful Dead worshipper’s wardrobe. Thankfully, or unthankfully, depending on your view, it’s all on film, courtesy of UC San Diego grad Michael Bedar.

Bedar lives a simple life. As of this writing, he’s without a permanent address, living on a couch with six housemates in La Jolla. He currently has no car. He says he discovered G-d about a year ago, through a gradual process. Before then he was atheist.

“I was equating G-d with religion’s negative connotations like control and power and struggle,” says Bedar, offering slices of orange and sitting in front of an earthy wall tapestry. Since his “spiritual awakening”, he has studied Torah, spirituality and metaphysics. He’s becoming more observant, running to the corner liquor store to pick up wine for Kiddush. Bedar is not orthodox despite his ample facial hair.

“G-d leads me to certain people for a reason,” says Bedar. During Rosh Hashana 2002, which was around the same time Bedar established his relationship with G-d, he met traveling author and new-to-San Diego resident Dovid Krafchow, at a concert called the Trinity Tribal Stomp in Northern California. Bedar was mesmerized by Krafchow’s praying and dovening.

Before going to the concert, Bedar was aware that it would take place during Rosh Hashana. “I believe in G-d now, so what should I do?” he asked himself. “I’ll go to the concert to be closer to G-d spiritually and not to go to synagogue,” he reasoned. “On the way up to the concert, the friend I drove up with to the concert told me that an erudite man named Dovid who knows a lot about Jewish mysticism would be there.”

Bedar didn’t have to guess who Krafchow was. “Next to the Buddhist sitters and Capoeira martial artists was Dovid,” remembers Bedar. “I knew it was him with his tie-dyed tallis, dovening with tefillin on. That’s when he and I began to talk. I was voracious for knowledge and he wanted to document his knowledge of Torah for the lay spiritual seeker wishing to explore Judaism in a non-conformist way.”

Connecting with Krafchow was more than “I could have ever dreamed in a storybook,” says Bedar. “It was a classic student-disciple relationship. We rushed through all the preparations and washed for the mikvah. We did everything by the book. He taught me what to read, when to read.”

Fitting the image more of a wizard with his psychedelic mushroom pants and pointed Merlin hat than a learned Jew, Krafchow is the guest lecturer and subject of Bedar’s documentary, Henry and Dovid.

Henry and Dovid is a biographical, day-in-the life film about Krafchow’s lecture and Tarot card readings at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, a Northern California coastal Mecca for literary types, liberals, itinerants, poets, radicals and other 60s-era holdouts. Bedar’s film is currently being distributed by the historical, metaphysical and scientific film company, Knowledge 2020 Media. Henry and Dovid documents and creatively edits Krafchow’s February, 2003 lecture. Krafchow knew of Bedar’s documentary-making experience and asked him to film his lecture.

In the documentary, Krafchow interprets ancient scriptures such as the Cabala, of which he claims to have mastered all four of its layers. He considers how a person may glean practical information about one’s own life and about the current state of the world through metaphors embedded in texts, history, human sexuality, and the cosmos. He often alludes in the documentary to Miller’s literature, whose 1934 book Tropic of Cancer was censored from 1936-61 in the U.S. and Britain.

“I was stunned by the Cabala’s sexual metaphors,” explains Krafchow to his audience at the library. Krafchow also examines his affinity towards Miller’s writing from his home near Normal Heights, where he is getting ready to open a store with his son called Thread and Spirit.

“Miller was the first person to describe sex in a vulgar tone,” says Krafchow. “While D.H. Lawrence and other writers of the Great Depression era were writing about love, Miller was the first to use the word ‘f*ck,’” which Krafchow informs in the lecture, comes from the phrase, “Fornication Under the Consent of the King.” The phrase dates back to Henry VIII, who paved the way for sexual revolution by pioneering the concept of divorce.

Pretty soon, all the king’s subjects were doing it. Krafchow says that the modern world has become too dependent on technology and therefore less spiritual. “We’ve become a nation of consumers,” he says both to the Journal and in the film. “Sexuality has become commercialized and trivialized.”

Krafchow is a progressive. He wouldn’t think that pre-marital sex is wrong; however, sexual energy should be preserved and not come from an animalistic, base-chakra origin. Sex should represent the beautiful union between man and woman, not necessarily for the purpose of creation, but to physically enhance the spirituality of man and woman through love.

Krafchow was born the same year Miller first visited Big Sur, and like other prophetic and forward-thinking writers of his day, Miller saw technology and modernity leading to a faithless and morally-corrupt society. Miller didn’t preach against sex, licentiousness and debauchery; he lived that life and wrote about it without leaving anything to the imagination.

“The purpose of sex,” says Krafchow, “is more than just pleasure; it’s a choice and it has the potential to lead to spiritual growth.” This is the difference, he says, between fucking and loving. The union between man and women is mentioned in the Torah and the Cabala.

Krafchow argues that the word “f*ck” unnecessarily shocks the masses (Indeed, the word will probably be edited with a star in the article!), while at the same time, the phrase, “G-ddamn” eludes editing even on children’s programming. “Why does ‘f*ck’ have so much power?” he asks, “And why is it that many people have no problem breaking the commandment not to say G-d’s name in vain?” Krafchow doesn’t seem despondent over the casual use of the phrase ‘G-ddamn.’ It doesn’t surprise him. He’s probably more bothered by the puritan disdain towards the word ‘f*ck.’

Henry and Dovid immediately hooks the intellectually-curious viewer. Krafchow is seen at the very beginning of the movie dovening and reciting the Brucha. The sight of this radical Jewish James Dean/Jerry Garcia, with locks of white curly hair bouncing from side to side, standing next to a pristine Big Sur spring with eagles flying overhead is surreal. If you’re a conservative Republican or a modern Jew who would be shocked at the sight of Krafchow walking into your multi-million dollar synagogue, you need to be open and spiritually minded and be willing to criticize the state of the world and America in order to stomach the documentary.

While Krafchow elucidates mystic ancient passages, Bedar’s camera pans on the natural beauty of Big Sur’s towering forests and 200-foot cliffs. Bedar also provides close ups of Krafchow’s Tarot card table readings. In the documentary, he interprets the cards of a 27-year old woman. “Your understanding of your sexuality is still evolving,” he tells her.

The similarities between Tarot and Cabala are also explored. Krafchow says there are both 22 Hebrew letters and Tarot cards. Nothing is a coincidence to Krafchow, not even that the current U.S. administration is led by Bush, Dick and Colin. Society has a way of manifesting its subconscious sexual attitudes, he says.

Bedar’s first film project, EcoParque (2000) was an act of Tikkun Olam (transforming the world into a better place). With a co-producer, who coached him on the film making process, Bedar created an environmental documentary about an innovative solution to Baja and Southern California’s coastal pollution.

Life, even without a home and car, is flowing for Bedar, ever since he started praying to G-d.

“I kept looking for happiness through physical things in my life,” says Bedar, alluding to his life as an atheist. “I am now learning to surrender to G-d through prayer and through this, I have all the fulfillment I wanted and much more. I’ve learned to stop suffering.”

Bedar is currently working on a project for the Tijuana River Park Estuary. Before he turns 26, he hopes to raise enough money so he can fly to New York to catch a flight to Israel to participate in the free Birthright Israel program. Somehow, asking him why he won’t get another job doesn’t sound spiritual. It would ruin the moment.

© Judd Handler